Theme Park Accidents : Faulty Rides or Faulty Inspections?

The Amusement Industry Dilemma

by Laura Smith

Aug. 9, 2007

Summertime is full of water parks, theme parks, amusement parks — and sometimes death and injury. It seems that more and more accidents or mishaps are taking place worldwide within the amusement industry.

Earlier this summer, a roller coaster car derailed at Expoland theme park in Osaka, Japan. A young girl died and 19 others were injured. According to an Aug. 7 report from The Japan Times, a ministry-ordered study found flaws in 59 roller coasters and other rides in 47 of that nation’s amusement parks. The parks have never carried out required checks for defects.

Other summer accidents have occurred in France, Finland and the U.S., where a Wisconsin girl fell about 45 feet while on the Air Glory ride, in which people are strapped into harnesses, attached to cables and hoisted in the air and then at some point pull a ripcord to get the free-fall experience. The victim pulled her ripcord and fell to her death. An investigation cited Air Glory for 25 code violations, some of which dealt with operator error. None of the findings proved the condition or structure of the ride contributed to the death.

What about 13-year-old Kaitlyn Lassiter, whose feet were severed June 21 while riding the Superman Tower of Power at Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom? A lawsuit has been filed against the park alleging negligence in inspecting the ride. A statement released to news organizations quoted the family as saying that “it is disheartening as parents to have witnesses call us personally and tell us that weeks, even days, before the accident they were told that the seat Kaitlyn was in was having problems at that time and that all of this could have been prevented.”

In the U.S., the Consumer Product Safety Act and Commission protects the public against unreasonable risks of injury and death from consumer products. Yet the commission’s jurisdiction over amusement rides is limited to those that are not permanently fixed to a site, such as carnival rides transported from location to location. Each state’s legislation on amusement ride inspections differs.

Should the federal government become more involved? With the apparent rash of safety failures in the amusement industry, the thought of visiting an amusement park may find you bemused instead of amused.